Makkala Habba 2013: Creativity Unleashed


Saturday mornings in the last 4 weeks had not just been the most awaited one for many a students in Bangalore but also for the volunteers.  After all, it was the celebration of creativity in a different and an innovative way for most people involved.

These Saturdays have been an explosion of creativity and learning for students from 9 Government schools across Bangalore with over 3655 children participating. This year the “Makkala Habba” was held from the 16th November- 14th December 2013 in Bangalore. The Habba was one place where chaos, excitement, energy, ideas and imagination were running high.


 A Community Festival
Akshara has been creating programmes in the Pre-schools (Anganwadis) and Government Primary Schools with an intention to improve educational outcomes. The “Makkala Habba” is a community festival which aims at bringing the parents, teachers and students together. The involvement of the parents and the community ensure the betterment of both the school and the students. A festival like this also ensures that the parents and the school staff build a good rapport and work together.


What is the Makkala Habba?
Makkala Habba is a Community Festival in schools and pre-schools. The festival involves the active participation of the Parents, Teachers and Children to engage in creative LEGO brick activity in the school along with the volunteers.

The Habba uses the theme of LEGO model construction wherein Parents, Children, and Teachers are to be invited to play, and create a LEGO model in the school. This year the Habba had multiple themes. This year the themes were chosen on things the children see around in their surroundings. My ideal city, My school, the market, village fair, modes of transport, shopping mall were some of the themes chosen this year.

Children had to depict the theme using LEGO brick based model construction. The duration of the Habba in each school was two hours. However, in these two hours there was an exchange of ideas, thoughts, views, conversations which helped these children come up brilliant models. On the other hand, there was parent- teacher interaction which otherwise is a rarity.

The Habba was witnessed by senior Education Department officials at many locations. Members from School and Pre-School Monitoring Committees were also invited. Volunteers from Akshara Donors and Friends helped conduct the Habba at the various locations.

This Habba would not have been such a success had it not been for the various volunteers.  Huge thanks to the volunteers from CGI, Hewlett Packard, Hibu, Robert Bosch, I-Gate, Target and the Akshara Team for their help and support. The first edition of Makkala Habba wouldn’t be the same without the co-operation and help from all those involved. 

Kathe Helu Aata Aadu !


“Kathe Helu, Aata Aadu” was designed as a part of the World Literacy Day and Teachers Day celebrations.  All the planning had been done in a single week and it was now time to execute the plan. While the Library team and Asha spent time finding the right schools and co-ordinating with the volunteers, I was looking for volunteers over the social media. We got a good response and we were all set to get the ball rolling.

15th September felt a little different from most other Saturdays. After the usual peek-a-boo with the clouds, the sun had decided to shine up warm and bright. The volunteers were excited and so was the Akshara team. While Lakshmi and I missed our way, we eventually found the school just behind a magnificent Banyan tree.

Seeing the school building immediately brought smiles on our face, not because we found the school at last but because this school had a playground, which is indeed a rarity these days.  Around 9.45 am the volunteers started pouring in. Soon there was a bunch of twelve volunteers, 11 of them from Hewlett Packard and one independent volunteer who was back to Bangalore after a long gap of 3 years.

After a quick round of introductions, hi’s and hellos and a brief about the event the volunteers were all set to get the plan into action. They formed groups and entered the respective classrooms.  The same book was read out to all the classes but the activities planned were different.

Volunteers first began with the story telling session which lasted for about 30 minutes and the remaining 60 minutes were dedicated to the activity that was planned. While Class 5 were engrossed in making LEGO models, Class 6 got busy with their collage sheets and the kids of Class 7 happily enacted the story.

What dominated the atmosphere was excitement and enthusiasm, both from the kids as well as the volunteers.  The children chattered happily with the volunteers, each one eagerly talking about their hobbies and their aspirations.

Once the story telling and activities were done, the volunteers distributed stationery and books to the kids and this not just added to the twinkle in their eyes but also brought out big broad smiles.  Post the event, kiddies kept telling the volunteers to come back again the next Saturday.

The event definitely brought a lot of smiles and joy to the volunteers and the kids, as for us it was a learning experience. Inspite of the confusions, the chaos, and the last minute changes we had managed to pull off the event decently well. Of course it all doesn’t stop here, we need to be more organized and execute the plan well and yes we are all charged up to learn from our mistakes and make sure we don’t repeat them.

A big thank you to the Library Team at Akshara for putting up all of this in such a short time.  A bigger thank you to the big group of over 60 volunteers from HP, Robert Bosch and Target for making this event a huge success.  Special thanks to Anu, Asha, Ramesh and Nirupama for all the lovely pictures. We are pretty much inspired to continue this trend and have many more such events. So keep reading our blog for more information!

More pictures here.

Summer Camps in Kushtagi


Akshara strongly believes that, “Strengthening the community is a long term endeavour”. People of the community become more empowered and responsible to work together to uplift and sustain the quality of education. Thus, Akshara initiated thirteen educational camps in the community for the children of 9 to 14 years in the Kustagi block in the month of May-2013.

Preparation for the camps:
The senior team members from Bangalore trained the team of Kustagi and Mundargi in Dharwad for four days in order to prepare for the summer camps in their particular clusters.
The summer camp training laid special emphasis on
The objectives of the camp.
Stake holders for the Community camps.
The target to conduct the Community camps in Hoskote, Kustagi and Mundargi.
Time line.
Core team for implementing each camp.
A plan to conduct the community camps

Mr. Mukund Maigur held the training on ‘Street Play’. He made everyone the poets, writers, actors and pioneers of the story. The team members found this means to be an effective media to reach out the minds of people concerning the relevance of education.

The Volunteers:
The mixed group of volunteers were identified for this camp. A fruit seller, a mason, a carpenter, members of Gram panchayat, II PUC passed students, Graduates, D.Ed and B.Ed completed candidates were the volunteers who led the camps.

 The Donors:
The team visited the community from door to door, met the SDMC members, the HMs, the teachers and the leaders of the village, explained them about the objectives of the camp and sought the donors to support the camps for three days.

Volunteer Training

Training the sixty selected volunteers:
Even though there was a lot of hesitation among the volunteers in the beginning of the sessions, gradually they all involved themselves in the training, every one participated in all the activities. The group activities, Lego, the tree game and the street play were particularly liked by all.
A session led by Mr.Shankar Narayan for four hours, his motivational speech and several activities made them think about the present status of education in their villages and they were stimulated to take up the new task in the form of village camps.

Camps:
In Kustagi block 13 camps were conducted in different villages. The locations were selected based on the cooperation of the schools, the communities, the SDMC and the availability of the volunteers. Sixty trained and enthusiastic volunteers returned to their places in zeal to conduct the events in their respective villages.

Inaugural function:
The camps began with the procession in the village. The children, the teachers, villagers and the volunteers lead the procession to the camp venue. The inaugural function was held in the schools. The Gram Panchayat Presidents and members, the SDMC President and the members, local leaders, the Self Help Group members, youth club, Cluster Resource Persons (CRP) the school Head Master, the assistant teachers, the media people, cooks of the school and volunteers were present during the function.

Activities in the camps held for three days:
The children were divided into four – five groups. They were instructed to be in their particular groups for all the three days. In the first session, they were made to dance, jump, sing and make jokes to attract them towards the camp. In some of the camps the guest lectures, the doctors, the lawyers, the engineers, the educationists and the Police inspector interacted with the children and inspired them to have an insight about their future.
“Memory Game” was an interesting game for the children. Every one participated in an enthusiastic manner.
The “Village Map” drawn by the volunteers involving the children show cased the picture about the irregular children, drop outs from the school, the educators of the village. This helped to know the present scenario of their village.
The children enjoyed the “Lego Game”. They all jumped with joy to see the Lego kit. They made different models, created a scene and narrated the story. They never wished to leave the camp even though the time was up.
“ASER” test was conducted to all the 727 children of the camp.
“Pick and speak” was an interesting event for all the children. It raised the self confidence in them. This made the children to think, prioritize, exhibit their thoughts and ideas with expressions before the audience.
The ‘Musical Chair’ game, the ‘Outdoor’ games, ‘Indoor’ games, ’Quiz’ in ‘English and Math’ and ‘General  Knowledge’ created healthy competition among the children.
A “Tree Game” was liked by all the children. After the tree game the children took an oath to plant a tree and name it. In Sebinakatti, Kalkeri and Bilagi villages the plants were distributed to all the children by the forest officer.

Community meetings:
In every village, a social gathering was held after 8 PM it went on till 11.30 PM. The parents of the children participating in the camp, the village leaders, youth, the SHG members, the Gram Panchayat members, SDMC members all gathered during this meeting. On the ‘First’ day, the cultural activities by the children were well appreciated. Akshara team members briefed about the purpose of the camp and the significance of education in today’s juncture.

The points mentioned below were highlighted during the meeting.
Monthly parents meetings to be held in schools.
The parents should spend minimum of 30 minutes with their children every day and ask about the learning in their class rooms.
The parents to meet the class teachers every month compulsory.
To conduct a ‘Makkal Sammelana’ once every six months.

On Day 2, the children drew everyone’s attention with their cultural activities again. The volunteers, Akshara team in collaboration with the children performed the street play beautifully. The play was effective in spreading awareness in the minds of the village folk through children.The children expressed their views about the camp. The information collected through the village map was shared with the parents. The results of the ASER test were announced in the community. Mr.Sharanappa Vodagera a famous folk singer, entertained the people with his awareness songs called “Jagruti Geethegalu” concerning the education of the emerging generation.

The annual plan for the academic year was shared with the community and is as follows:
To visit the school once in a month.
To conduct meetings with the educationists.
To provide basic facilities to the school.
To identify the problems in the schools and to provide solutions.
To give more emphasis on appointing teachers to schools.
To look for teachers from the village who can render their services voluntarily.
To help provide books to the children in time.
To recognize the meritorious children and to motivate them as well as the other students.

On Day-3, during the valedictory function the community members and the donors were also present. The prizes were distributed for all the events which were conducted for the children. The dignitaries on the dias delviered their speeches. A word of  thanks to all the people involved in the success of the camps and finally, the oath taking by the volunteers and the people of the community to carry on the same for the next summer camp was the sequence of the day.

About the camps:
The ‘Three Day Camp’ was as good as a festival in the village for the all the people. All the community people gathered in one place without any differences of cast and creed. They all agreed upon the idea of education and its importance. They were cooperated well with the Akshara team. The CRPs, HMs and the community people opined that, a educational programme of this type had never been held before in their villages. The programme went on till 11.30PM. The parents were glad to see their their kids performing various events. Over all they viewed the hidden talents of their children in the community programme.


ASER Result:
727 children benefitted from this camp. All the children were tested with the ASER tool. As per the ASER result of 727 children, 408 (56%) can read Kannada, 86 (12%) can read simple English sentences and 206 (28%) children can do division.

Support of the volunteers:

The support of the volunteers was amazing. There are no words to express about them. ‘Fifty five’ of the had attended the training but more than ‘Eighty’ of them joined their hands during the camps leaving behind all their personal work. They helped and enjoyed in the camps without any expectations. The logistic arrangements for Akshara team was taken care by the volunteers. The volunteers said that it was a first educational function in their village and they will take it forward in the days to come.

A volunteer named Anand, a seventeen year old boy, passed his 10th standard with 70% in the year 2012-13, from the Government High School and is now studying in the first year of Pre-University College. He starts his day by distributing news papers from door to door.  His father is an alcoholic and mother supports the family. His parents discouraged him from continuing studies due to the poverty. But, Anand wants to become an ‘Artist’. Therefore he earns money for himself and also continues his studies. He was an active volunteer in the Basavana camp, Tavergera. He donated tea and snacks on all the three days of the camp. “I am ready to invest my time and money for any educational programs. Akshara Foundation gave me an opportunity to be the part of educational program and I totally support their effort”,says, Anand.

Mr.Raghvendra from Kalkeri village has completed his D.Ed says through assuring words, that, “I had heard about the summer camps happening in the towns and the cities, but now it has stepped into the interiors of the village through Akshara Foundation. It is a gift for us. We the youth will continue this tradition”.

The support from the school HMs and the CRPs:
The Head Masters of the schools rendered their support. Some of the HMs stayed till the community meetings got over. A tasty food was prepared by the cooks to the children. In some of the villages the cooks of the schools donated tea and biscuits to all the children.

Donors:
In most of the camps, SDMC President and the Gram Panchayat President were the major donors. Some of them provided breakfast,sweets, tea, snacks, note books, pens, and prizes for the events for all the children

Experience of the Cluster Facilitators:
“It was a wonderful experience to know about myself. I learnt to organize events, gained the confidence and faced people and the media. I felt very happy when I addressed nearly 200 people” says Mr.Govindappa.
Mr.Manjunath gladly says:“Before the camp I was like a tube light but after the camps I have become like a CLF bulb”I have taken up the challenge to give my service the best to schools and community”
Ms.Shailaja says, “I came to know about my strengths and the talents through this camp”.
“Initially, I was not confident about myself but now, I feel that, everything is possible if there is a will”. Explains Mr.Kotresh.
Mr.Shivappa adds, “I was suffering from inferiority complex but these camps have helped me overcome my problem”.
Mrs.Akkamahadevi asserts: “I had the confidence to do any program. But I was worried about how to take this with the support of community and volunteers. I succeeded.”
Mr.Sharanappa shares, “I am impressed by the volunteers. They gave their time without any expectations for the cause of education. So everything is possible if we go with good will”.
Mr.Doddangowda confidently says, “I learnt to organize the events with the support of the community. I was an introvert but now,I feel that I am not”.
“I have gained a lot of knowledge by interacting with the children”. Says a newly joined CF, Mr.Shankarappa.
Today, I feel proud to say that, I am a block facilitator of Kustagi block for Akshara foundation. The camps have thrown the light on the block and many officers, the teachers and the people recognize me” opines, Mr.Umesh Meli the ‘Taluka Facilitator’.

Learning:
It was a firsthand experience and learning to have an exposure through the camps in the community.
The education department officers, teachers, children, the community and the media had a positive view about the camps.
Akshara foundation has shown and sown the way in the community to continue the camps in the days to come.
The team has built up the confidence to take up any challenges on the field.

Challenges faced:
It was a tough task to identify the volunteers in the community. Some said ‘yes’ but did not turn up for the training.
Elections were a hurdle to get the camps started in time.
Some donors assured to donate for the camp but were unable to do so.
Internal conflicts between the SDMC and HM was also an obstacle.
‘Marriages’ and Gram ‘Habbas’ in the villages also intervened the camps.
Basic facilities for the Akshara team was another challenge.


Conclusion:
Akshara Foundation’s team in Kushtagi, with many experiences was able to successfully conduct thirteen educational camps. Through these camps, we brought a smile on 727 children’s faces. The village map, tree game, ASER, street play, Drawing and Quiz competitions, Lego, Outdoor and Indoor games, Action songs and many other activities have retained in the young minds of the children. The cultural activities performed by the children and the youth, Rangoli competitions for the women in the village were interesting to note. All this showed the enthusiasm of the people. The support of the volunteers, school HM, CRPs, people of the community has doubled the confidence of all the CFs. The regular support of Mr.Shankara Narayan, the stay in the village, his interaction with the people and the motivational speech had people impressed.

Though beginners, Akshara Foundation has made a mark and has created history in all the thirteen villages of  the Kushtagi block.

Akshara’s Summer Camp at the Government Higher Primary School, Hasigalla


A bunch of happy kids at the Summer Camp
The Summer Camp – A Prelude
Children are latecomers that first day of the Akshara summer camp. The Government Higher Primary School, Hasigalla, Hoskote Block, wears a wind-blown, deserted look – dry curls of leaves in the verandah, dust everywhere. Headmaster (HM) Hanumantarayappa is opening doors that have stayed stubbornly locked most of the summer. Akshara’s Cluster Facilitators are there. Srinivas, there are two Manjunaths, Lakshman and Krishnappa. A rock-solid contingent of courage, conviction and purpose. The Akshara banner announcing the summer camp as a part of its Namma Makkalu, Namma Abhimana (Our Children, Our Pride) initiative  flutters against the outside grill, unmistakable and immediately noticeable.

The Cluster Facilitators are arranging the classrooms, shifting the furniture and setting things up for the formal inauguration. The children troop in, faces radiant with expectation, the girls dressed iridescently in flowing, gold-laced skirts or in the latest trends in salwar kameezes, the boys in casual shirts and trousers or shorts. All bedecked for an occasion. Not one of them sartorially inelegant.

They grab brooms made of coconut sticks, stiff from disuse, and buckets and cloths and become a whirlwind cleaning force, thorough and efficient. Triveni of class 6 dusts the furniture and sweeps in a rush, says a friendly, throwaway “Good morning” and continues the focus. Not satisfied, Jayakumari of class 6, repeats the exercise, her rust silk skirt trailing, holding her broom flat against the floor, sweeping every bit of dust out of the room. Jeju of class 5 diligently collects the trash in a bucket. It is difficult to believe, unless told, that he is mentally retarded and has speech impairment. Jeju is vigorous, salutes everyone, keen not to be left behind. Manoj, Pavan, Anusha, Bindu and Darshan gingerly raise their dangling legs for the broom to go under the bench they are sitting on. They are in classes 1 to 3, and exempted from this daily ritual in school.

“Cleaning is a custom in school,” says the HM. Every day groups of children – boys and girls – take turns to sweep the school and the large compound. The principle of self-reliance is instilled early, and that no job is too low or menial to do. The children take pride in their work, they feel a sense of kinship with their school, and it drives them to do a good job.

They are multi-dexterous. The next moment they are settling down on floor mats for other pursuits, other engagements. The Cluster Facilitators organised the room, the chairs are positioned, a small lamp was placed on the table with oil and wicks and a twist of orange flowers around the stem.

Summer Camp Objectives

Akshara designed the summer camp with two key objectives in mind, which Cluster Facilitator Srinivas enunciated at the inauguration. It was a three-day event for children, parents and people, with nearly 25 such camps taking place in May in Hoskote Block and Kushtagi and Mundargi Blocks in North Karnataka. At the GHPS, Hasigalla, the dates were the 24th, 25th and 26th of May.

After a short introduction to Akshara Foundation and its work, Srinivas talked about Akshara’s aim to sustain children’s interest in learning and to preserve unbroken their link with education during the holiday season. It was the centrepiece of the summer camp. It would support, as evidenced at the Hasigalla School, a continuous flow of stimulus, sustenance and strengthening through group learning activities.  The sports competitions punctuating each day were pure fun amidst the cerebral flexing.

The second intention was community participation in education. The event was meant to precipitate awareness and a groundswell response to education, people coming forward and owning a village government school as their cause, their agenda, discussing problems and being part of the solution.

Five volunteers who were local village youths from Hasigalla were intermediaries in the management of the summer camp. The idea was a far-reaching one – to involve local youth in education, get them invested, so that they felt it was their project and that they could be change-propellers.

“A Special Three Days….”
Somashekhara, the President of the School Development Monitoring Committee (SDMC), who is a staunch pillar of support for the school, said the summer camp will increase children’s knowledge. The HM called it “a special event, a special three days favourable to our children.” The school had progressed because of Akshara’s in-school programmes, he said, and prospered because of the SDMC that takes care of it like their own home.

The lamp was lit, and Mounika, class 5, Bhavya, class 7, and Triveni recited a short morning prayer, the accents, the pronunciation and the emphasis impeccable. Sheets of paper went around the 45 children present who wrote down their names and grades.

The Mathematics Quiz

The Mathematics quiz was the first item to start off. The children formed four groups and sat in large circles. Quietude settled, but there was no fear or performance anxiety on any face. These children seemed capable Mathematics students, springing up to answer even before Cluster Facilitator Srinivas had completed his question.

The quiz was developed by Akshara’s resource team and has more than 45 questions compatible with children’s competencies, not of the textbook variety, but questions of a general nature that applied across classes. For instance: What is the seventh month of the year? How many days are there in May? Name the shape that has three sides. How many minutes are there in an hour? What do you add to 999 to make 1000? Triveni, Manjunath, Soundarya, Ananth, Arun – all stood up with agile answers, with confidence.

In the midst of all this certitude, little Sanjay of class 3 floundered on the question to his group. How many hours are there in a day? He pounced on it without consulting his team and said, “Twelve hours,” so sure of its accuracy. His group members fixed him a glaring, unforgiving look. He had spoiled their chances. Sanjay’s eyes welled up in humiliated defeat. As it happened, his group lost the first spot by a single point, further mollifying him.

A Spell of Drawing
Children engrossed in drawing pictures
The whole incident was soon forgotten as chart paper, pencils and sketch pens are passed around for a drawing competition.

Charan of class 7 had swiftly conjured a riotous scene of shrubs, trees and unusual green shoots. There was a house and a sun’s drawn face, like an old man’s, peering between hills, shining down fiercely, blighting all that foliage. It eventually won Charan a prize for its creative amassing.

Madan of class 6 drew a cat. It was a neat delineation, quickly executed. Then, imagination ran out. After a spell of distraction, he added a tail and, in an attempt to thicken it to bushy proportions, he lost steam again.
From a lot of other children, there were essays into the familiar – homesteads, animals, and flowing streams with embellished ducks.

The English Quiz

The children waited with bated breath for the English quiz to begin, wary yet expectant. It was every child’s dream – to become conversant in English. It was also a language that intimidated, as their grounding is weak. Some of the questions had to be interpreted in Kannada, but, overall, they acquitted themselves creditably.

The questionnaire, created by the Akshara resource team, flung its net wide, with overarching questions that children ought to know. Which country do you live in? Which is your city? They were not daunting questions. Name the capital of India. Hands were not raised, no one jumped to attention. Manasa timidly got it right.

A perturbed silence meets the question: Name the President of India. Pratibha Patil, someone suggested. Hamid Ansari, said someone else. The question was passed. Who is Karnataka’s current Chief Minister? The response was immediate. Who wrote the national anthem? Sagar had no doubts in his mind that it is Rabindranath Tagore. Who is your favourite actor? Jayakumari says bashfully, “Ravichandra.” Which planet do you live on? Manasa was sure of it. “Bhoomi,” she said, but couldn’t find its English equivalent. None of the children could, but the point was given.

A Session with LEGO

A session with LEGO, the learning-oriented play material from the world renowned Danish toy manufacturer, LEGO, was exhilarating for the children. It was their first encounter with the multitudes of multi-coloured pieces and bricks. And it was awe-inspiring, confusing and frustrating.

Mounika pored over the LEGO leaflets with instructions in English, referred to the models pictured there and conferred with her team mates. It did not help, but Cluster Facilitator, Manjunath was with them and the bottlenecks were soon dismantled. Houses and towers and trees sprouted on a platform.

Parents participated too, the mothers as collaborative partners, the fathers, reluctant spectators. A middle-aged father with a shock of grey hair pleaded that he was too old for a children’s game, watched noncommittally and retreated. Nagamma, a mother, teamed with students Ambika and Mala to fashion a watch tower with a man on top, possibly a guard. She laughed self-consciously every time she fixed a piece and surveyed the outcome.

Jayakumari and Manasa had a big, impressive creation – a fort with towers and turrets, and bridges spanning roofs. The diffident charting of unknown territory was over, and in thirty minutes children assembled some inspired models, a small, exquisitely made field plough among them.

Opportunities for Self-Expression

Children revelled in the opportunities the summer camp provided for self-expression. Jayakumari was cheered on as she represented her group in a self-chosen creative act. Singing is her forte and her song is about coming to school every day and her experiences – the learning, the knowledge, the fun she has. She teamed with Bindushree for a prayer and a patriotic song. They sang at the top of their voices, their self-esteem soaring, and some of the front row children shut their ears and smiled conspiratorially just to taunt the singers. Manjunath presented a story laced with humour. Bhavya recited a rhyme and Madan would not budge even as a thunderous round of applause tried to get him to go up and say or do something.

Extempore speech making on topics like Education, Health, Environment and School was an activity that provoked a gathering of thought and cogent presentations. Each group got five minutes to marshal their forces.

The older children had an advantage. Anupa, a volunteer, coached her group fervently, asked for pen and paper and wrote down her points furiously on the environment, its beauty and how it is people’s duty to protect it and develop it responsibly. Poornima of class 6 found Anupa’s high-flown Kannada too challenging and handed over the short write-up to Jayakumari to read, who too dries up halfway through.

The boys did a good job with Education and Health, prompted by Cluster Facilitator Lakshman, who handled the session. Monesha, a college student, began her talk about School with a short Sanskrit invocation and emphasised punctuality, discipline and respect to teachers and elders as its corner-stones. She summed up by saying that the onus is on children too to make school a conducive place.

A Solemn Pledge

Cluster Facilitator Manjunath got the children to take an Akshara Foundation pledge that they will learn well and obey and respect their teachers; that they will study their subjects, take part in extracurricular activities and all school programmes and follow the rules of the institution. It was uttered with sanctity and vigour and evoked a solemn response from children as they repeated after Manjunath with a feeling of piety.

A Village Map

The next item was the delineation of a Village Map, an activity that fostered awareness in children of their surroundings and got their bearings right. It helped them identify important locations, know what is available, where to access services.

Children mapped their world with sure precision and knowledge – access roads leading off the highway and clusters of dwellings and trees drawn with remarkable agility. The village pond, the village square, the temple, the Hasigalla anganwadi, school and higher primary school, the ration shop and health centre were all featured. Prizes are adjudicated on the basis of the most comprehensive picture of their village the groups could come up with.

Playtime – Hit-and-Miss

The rough and tumble of play as the afternoon wore was an exciting time of day for the children. One sports event that went down particularly well with them was hitting the target, a game of misses, as it turned out. That did not dampen spirits. Group representatives were blindfolded and let loose with a long stick in hand with which to hit an improvised target of an inverted bucket. The children wandered here and there, lost, unable to find direction.

Pavan was the only one amazingly on target, walking straight ahead towards his object as if with eyes wide open, causing scepticism in the Cluster Facilitators who suspected he could see through the lower slit of the cloth blindfold. Once his state of temporary sightlessness was tightly ensured, they left Pavan to find his way. He was accurate, did not waver and reached close, a foot or two away, his stick steadily poised for the strike.

A crowd of children cheered him on uproariously. Victory was in sight. The boys urged Pavan, “Come on. Hit.  Bring the stick down.” At the crucial moment Pavan flinched, shrunk backwards a little and the stick came down hesitatingly a couple of inches short of the mark. He sobbed in frustration, all the while watching Jashwant who came next, the last in the line-up. Jashwant went haywire, straying towards a tree and hitting its bark, and Pavan laughed with delight through his tears. He did  not get a prize, but consolation was that no one got as close as he did either.

The Final Episode
Memories of the Summer Camp!
Achievement was woven into the texture of the three days, without making it a paramount consideration. It was not about winning, but about accomplishment, about doing well, though children were spurred by the prospect of prizes and goals attained, the final triumph. The summer camp was about group learning and the freedom to be.

Prize-giving became an egalitarian distribution, all four groups winning the first place in some category or other. Team members were each announced and awarded a prize. Everyone got a chance to be in the spotlight. Children queued up happily in front of their parents and the community for their prizes, more intent on being recognised than in any material reward.

As the momentum abated and the children prepared to leave, this is what they had to say.
Manasa, one of the brightest students in school, who was going to class 8 in June, said, “I liked the summer camp. I felt I had achieved something when I answered questions and felt excited that I might win prizes.” For one who sang so unselfconsciously Jayakumari was tongue-tied. After much prodding she said shyly, “Everything about the summer camp was good. I liked it.” Triveni said, “I liked participating in the quiz. I enjoyed all the games.” Mounika who kept to herself and did not say much, but was an active participant, softly said, “I am happy to be in the group that got the first prize for the Mathematics quiz. I liked the quiz questionnaire. I got to play.” Rashmita of class 4 said, “I liked the summer camp very much. It was really nice.”

Aswathamma, a class teacher at the school, summed it up when she said, “This is a useful activity during the long summer holidays. Instead of merely watching television and playing mindlessly, children did something related to learning. My students enjoyed the summer camp. They were learning without a textbook. The whole year is full of the textbook. This was a welcome break.”

A Word of Acknowledgement

The show in many ways belonged to Akshara’s Cluster Facilitators whose spirit remained undiminished till the end. They scripted its success. They orchestrated it. No detail was too small to be overlooked. They gave the summer camp in the Hasigalla School its structured rhythms, and yet made children feel the days were their own to savour. Learning was interspersed with fun, when the boisterous buoyancies of the children were allowed to flourish. In fact, there were times when it all seemed unmanageable, but order was always calmly restored, the HM and Aswathamma also contributing to the soothing process.

The Cluster Facilitators kept children engaged and animated all through. Krishnappa took them through a resonant recital of rhymes. Srikant, Akshara’s District Facilitator, did a short, powerful cameo. Manjunath had an action song that children enjoyed. Their robust renderings and the children’s enthusiastic accompaniment rented the air.

Seriousness was a mantle never far from reach either as they sat in a tribunal to select the winning teams. Or, as on the final day, Manjunath of the Hasigalla cluster and the other Cluster Facilitators organised a procession of children from the village to the school. The children held aloft the Akshara summer camp banner in an attempt to capture public imagination and draw attention to education.

The major landmarks of the summer camp were plotted out by Akshara’s senior resource team. All the Cluster Facilitators, as implementers, were trained to conduct it. It was their commitment and dedication that saw the summer camp through, with an infallible sense of method and organising skill. For fifteen days prior to the camp, Manjunath of the Hasigalla cluster and Srinivas were in and out of Hasigalla, Vabasandra and Thimmasandra, spreading an awakening in villages somnolent in the sun, motivating children caught in the torpor of summer holidays, disseminating word about the summer camp, requesting everyone’s participation.

The community could perhaps have done more, but the State Assembly elections were just over and it had left political rifts that had not healed. People owing allegiance to one political party declined to be a part of something the other party’s affiliates were going to be involved in. That the Stree Shakti Sangha came in full force and donated prizes; that parents attended the inauguration and the closing ceremony; that mothers made LEGO models with children; that the SDMC Presidents of both this school and the higher primary school came; and that everyone sank their differences to support the cause of educating their children is testimony to the work the Cluster Facilitators put in.

Maths becomes fun with Akshara’s Teaching Learning Material (TLM)


A bunch of children engrossed in solving a Math problem

Maths at times can get boring, the numbers can simply add to the extent of numerical monotony. Teaching maths can be a bigger challenge if one doesn’t know the right tactics to teach. A lot of research and studies say that many primary students find it difficult to solve basic maths.  So we decided to change the way we looked at and taught maths.

Our in-school programmes where the Teaching Learning Material (TLM) is being introduced welcomed this concept with cheers and smiles. The Mathematics workbooks distributed to children in the class were designed to bring about group learning. The emphasis was laid on two things namely thinking and doing. Children formed small groups of four and five members with one student taking the lead and charge of the group. The students of fourth and fifth standard were also given notebooks to do the sums.

Kerolina, who teaches Mathematics and English to students from I- IV standard at the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS), Kodihalli says with a smile that teaching maths would have been a real difficult task without the Akshara TLM.

In Hoskote, this is the second year of the programme and almost 75% of the teachers depend on Akshara’s methodology and TLM to teach Mathematics. At some schools the TLM methods are used twice or thrice a week, while others prefer to use it on a daily basis. While the Devanhalli block has just begun implementing the TLM routine, they are making candid attempts to adopt the group learning methods and techniques.

The TLM programme has been a huge favourite with both the teachers and the students. The Mathematics Programme has definitely made learning and teaching both a fun experience. Lakshmi, the Headmistress of a school in Doddadunnasandra says she has seen a great deal of improvement in her students who now understand the concepts of mathematics with ease.

What makes the Mathematics Programme even more interesting is the fact that apart from learning it is also helping these children build skills like leadership and teamwork. At a school in Atibele, it was wonderful to see the group leaders manage the Mathematic class when the teacher was absent. Not only did they make sure that there was no chaos but also dutifully did the sums and completed the lesson for the day.

With the TLM, teachers also have taken a step towards innovation. Manjula, a teacher regularly conducts Mathematics quiz in the Nali-kali classes. Students who give the correct answers are rewarded with bonus marks. With innovative teaching methods and equally enthusiastic learning the TLM programme has proved to be a boon.

An Objective Analysis of Swalpa English, Thumba Fun

Dr. Kalavathi B.K, who is the Executive Director of Anveshna Foundationhas been the Master Resource Person for Akshara’s English Program since it’s inception. Here, Dr. Kalavathi, does and objective analysis of the components of the programme – the Teaching Learning Materials and the Training Package. Shares her experiences of the lasting impact created by Akshara’s Swalpa English, Thumba Fun on teachers, which enables them to teach English with ease in the classes.
 
I have been associated with Akshara’s English programme for the past 4 years, right from its inception of designing the package to its implementation towards becoming “Swalpa English, Thumba Fun”. It is always nice to see Ms Kanchan Banerjee, the Managing Trustee, taking personal interest in the program and striving to improvise and upgrade it from year to year, based on the changing needs of the target group. Now, let’s do an objective analysis of the programme:

Training package: The package includes both Teacher’s manual and hands on training for the teachers as well as departmental Resource Person (RP)s . The Training manual is very simple with clear instructions to the teacher and the RPs; it has “Thematic Graded Content” which is teacher-friendly, based on inculcating Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing Skills. It also instructs the teacher regarding the day to day transaction of each lesson very clearly and also mentions which TLM to be used along with the content. The package contains lot of language games and strategies which will enrich the English language environment in the class.
The training is provided in two phases; Initial Orientation and refresher phase. Initial Orientation phase is for 5 days in the month of May and refresher phase for 2 days in the month of October. This is a teacher friendly training using various strategies and interventions in a workshop mode on a one to one basis. The training not only enhances the English Language skills of the teachers but also boosts their self confidence and motivates them to implement the package in the classrooms. It also provides them lot of extra tips regarding implementing the package in the classroom. The Statistics of the English Language Program of past 2 years clearly indicates the success rate of this program and can be validated as it is drawn through a pre-test and post-test design. The program has inbuilt evaluation as the teachers have to plot on”Pragathi Nota” at the end of each lesson.

Teaching Learning Materials (TLM):The TLM includes- Flash cards, Flip over Charts, workbooks, Reading Cards and High Frequency Sight Vocabulary Chart. Each Lesson from the teachers’ manual has been divided into two parts, namely-
  • Rhymes
  • Conversation and TPR Activities.
     
They are supplemented by Stories, Alphabet Phonic Songs, Reading and Writing Material. The rhymes are supported with mobile rhymes to make the teachers recollect the way the alphabet songs and rhymes were sung. The workbooks have been differently graded for classes I, II, III and IV. The material developed has been simple, graded, attractive realistic and suitable to the grass root level- both for the children and Teachers. The print material used is also long lasting and child friendly. Measures have been taken to introduce the vocabulary which is familiar to the rural children. It has been upgraded and improvised on the felt need and feedback received by the stakeholders annually.

My direct experience in the training classroom: The teachers as well as the RPs initially started with an attitude to mean- “Oh! another training!” Later, as they were made comfortable with icebreakers they settled into the comfort zone and got involved in the program. As the training was in a workshop mode with many strategies, they all willingly participated with interest. They found the rhyme sessions very interesting and asked for more new rhymes, they asked for the rhymes between the other activities as a warm up. They enjoyed the individual activities more than the group activities. In their session end feedback they said that they would look forward to more of Akshara English training program as it empowered them to use English in their classrooms. They also felt the workbooks and lessons were simple and realistic. It would help them to transact better as it was graded and attractively presented. They wanted more of Grammar support and to fulfill this requirement Akshara’s monthly worksheets helped them a lot. On the whole the teachers as well as the RPs actively participated in the training. Each one came forward to enact the stories as role plays and enjoyed it. They enjoyed the whole training program and said it was like going back to their school days. It was seen that by the end of the 5th day they were more empowered with spoken English and they also affirmed it by saying that it had built in the confidence and capacity to handle their English classes better, in unison all of them said that they would want this training again and again. They were also in touch with me during the break in between the initial orientation and refresher programs and it has continued to be.
During the refresher sessions most of the participants of the earlier training sessions were present and they said they were looking forward to the refresher training. They said they enjoyed teaching alphabet phonic songs and were equally liked by the children and it made their job of associating the sound –symbol association, easy. They said this training has helped their children more and the children also were motivated to learn more. In the refresher session I noticed all of them spoke in English with confidence though some with errors. I also noticed that the errors had come down.
At this point, I need to share a particular incident which touched me deeply, this happened during the first training program, where I had to train teachers of Bangalore North. The trainees were an assorted lot of all ages and backgrounds. There were elderly people who were about to retire too. The training program was rigorous and all of them had to be treated equally and I did it. The last day, a very senior teacher, who had all the while hesitated to participate freely, and who was not very fluent in English, came voluntarily and told me, “Beti, you are like my daughter and you have done the training very well and this has helped me. I will use it in the class for my children. I pray Allah to Bless you”, and that too in English. My day was made and I was overwhelmed with emotion and this action showed me how successful our training program was. I strongly believe “Action speaks louder than mere words”. Doesn’t this anecdote speak loads about the program?

Response of teachers/ RPs in both sessions:
As I have mentioned in my direct experience, though the teachers and the RPs started with an “attitude”, they quickly realized the simplicity and ease of use and implementation of the program.

They opined :
The way the training was being given (individualistic) had empowered them to speak English and had given them the confidence to take it forward and teach/ train their children/ trainees. The many strategies which were used during the training sessions had given them clear picture regarding how English could be taught in a play-way method in the class. The package was realistic and simple and the training funfiled and interesting which motivated them to actively participate. The rhymes and stories selected were simple and teachable to their students. They also appreciated the “mobile support”. The TPR activities with language games were interesting. The conversation was useful as it involved simple day to day vocabulary. The TLM was attractive and easy to use. The workbooks were well graded with simple but attractive pictures helped them to motivate the children to write.
Changes in teachers by 2nd session:
There was a visible change in their English speaking skills by the second session. They were also eager to learn more English and implement in the class. They asked for clarification regarding the grammar doubts they had collected. They interacted freely and confidently. They shared their happiness regarding how their classrooms were charged with a fun filled English environment and how their children loved the English period now. Their sentence structures had visibly improved.

Interaction with participants during activities:
They found the rhyme sessions and role plays very interested. They also opined that picture reading and story building were highly suitable for their classroom. They said individual activities like pick and speak, dialogue extensions, division of attention activities helped them a lot to enhance their attention and confidence. They found the language web an interesting way to teach grammar and sentences.
They also said that they liked the way hands on trainingwas being provided for each trainee which helped them in carrying over it to the class as well as the training sessions.

Myoverview of the scenario in Mundargi:
We entered the BRC center in Mundargi for the 2day refresher session, only to be welcomed by bright faced trainees who said were very happy to see us back. They spoke in fluent English but ofcourse, with minor errors! Their level of confidence surprised me, each one was eager to share their training experiences as I started asking informally. Infact, we did not need an icebreaker to start the session but as it was in the manual we started, only to get the use of their imaginary money spent in funny ways and some did even say they had spent it on buying books for their school children. They all had used the past tense correctly!

    Next, the class was divided into five groups to share their experiences and each group was asked to brain storm and discuss on- rhymes, flashcards, TPR activities, story telling and workbook, which they effectively did and raised lot of questions, keeping their training perspective in mind and gave their opinions on:
  • How they used the TLM in classroom?
  • Why is TLM important in language learning?
  • Has it helped children learn the English language?

And feedback was collected regarding their usage of TLM and its effectiveness with children. It was surprising to see all of them boldly giving out their views without any inhibition.

The main objective of the refresher course was to orient on reading skills for which the trainees had to use reading cards to blend associated phonic sounds. They clearly asked their doubts regarding blending and enquired why the blend has to be like this and why not like the way they wanted to use, which came as a pleasant surprise to me. It was a proud moment to see the “thinking and assertive teachers” who were showing their professionalism. The session also made the “self” engulfed to reflect and see why a particular activity should be done a particular way, there was also a query regarding the pronunciation of “the” with the vowel sounds and consonant sounds, which was dealt meaningfully and the trainee was contented and happy with the rationale. They also enquired whether we could have a teleconference with them every month to help them further better their English.

The most precious moment was when even the most silent and withdrawn trainee of the previous session had opened up and expressed that the English training program had instilled confidence in him and he had carried it forward to his students and was happy when he saw them speak English with confidence! Isn’t that a wonderful gift?

All good things have to end so did Mundargi’s refreshers session which would go a long way down the memory lane! 🙂